How do politicians court the violent fringe? Dog whistles and scripted violence.
In 1862, between a third and half of the entire population of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) were kidnapped by Peruvian slavers.
Want to be on the radio? Try saying this first: “The seething sea ceased to see, then thus sufficeth thus.”
According to the North American train whistle code, one long whistle then three short whistles means only one thing: it’s time to jump off the train and attach the torpedoes.
From 1864 to 1904, a vast underground network smuggled illegal books into Russian-controlled Lithuania.
Although probably apocryphal, the greatest newspaper headline I’ve heard of was supposedly written for the occasion that the English politician Michael Foot was appointed to a nuclear disarmament committee.
The Dutch Renaissance scholar Desiderius Erasmus wrote a textbook of rhetoric in which he illustrated the flexibility of language by writing the sentence “Your letter delighted me greatly” one hundred and ninety-five different ways.
The Rotokas alphabet of Bougainville Island has fewer letters than any other alphabet in modern use.
Car tyres have a long stretch of letters and numbers embossed on them, something like P215/65R15 95H M+S . Let’s decipher them together.
Imagine a neighbour talking to a neighbour talking to a neighbour in a long chain of communication. At the start of the chain, they are speaking Portuguese. At the end of the same chain, they are speaking Italian.
The US Navy loves their abbreviations: JAG, SEAL, NCIS, SECNAV, USLANTFLT… but the best has to be ADCOMSUBORDCOMPHIBSPAC. The Soviets also loved their abbreviations: НИИОМТПЛАБОПАРМБЕТЖЕЛБЕТРАБСБОМОНИМОНКОНОТДТЕХСТРОМОНТ!
The best dictionary entry in history appeared in some editions of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable: “Zymurgist (noun). Brewer. The last word in dictionaries.”
There are more than 300 sign languages in use in the world today. When signers of different languages meet, how do they communicate?
How do you bring a dying language back from the brink? Incubate it in a nest, of course.
Papyrus is expensive. Scripture is repetitive. The earliest Christian texts used a clever set of abbreviations to save space and time.